The editor of WRAL TechWire – that’s me – threw a stink bomb into the newsroom a couple weeks back when I raised questions about how could State Treasurer Janet Cowell accept a board seat and $200,000 in compensation at a private company while still holding office.

On Thursday, WRAL’s Mark Binker reported how Cowell could do so – with the blessing of the state’s Ethics Commission as provided by a “confidential formal advisory opinion.”

All above board.

State elected officials can do this.

Other Council of State members have outside income.

And, yes, Binker recounts complaints directed at Gov. Pat McCrory.

No need to reprint ace political reporter Binker’s story here. You can read the full report.

WTW also doesn’t play in politics, so whether this Ethics Commission decision is right and whether full-time elected officials should accept such outside roles – we’ll leave to others to debate.

At least what Cowell did to clear taking board seats is now fully on the record.


Cowell asked for and received an opinion that cleared the way for her to accept the ChannelAdvisor post and another at an investment firm – James River.

However, the “CONFIDENTIAL FORMAL ADVISORY OPINION” – in all caps, bold face – issued on Feb. 12 makes for interesting reading.

Here is the concluding “Analysis:”

“In fulfilling her role as a member of the ChannelAdvisor and James River boards, Treasurer Cowell will be acting in her private capacity. Therefore, neither G.S. 138A-31(a) nor G.S. 138A-36 would restrict her from serving on those boards. But those statutory provisions would restrict Treasurer Cowell from taking official action in her capacity as Treasurer if that action would provide a reasonably foreseeable financial benefit to those companies or a detriment to their competitors. Such an action would include making a decision to directly invest Retirement Plan funds in either company or to direct an investment manager of those funds to include the stock of either company in an investment portfolio. However, you have stated that the decision to invest in particular securities rests with the external professional investment managers, not DST employees. Therefore it is unlikely that DST employees will be in a position to direct investments in either company. Moreover, Treasurer Cowell has stated that she will recuse herself from making decisions about any of those investments.

“Treasurer Cowell would also be restricted from using her official position to advance ChannelAdvisor’s or James River’s business interests. That would include promoting those companies to the news media, the general public, or the investment community if such actions could be reasonably foreseen to result in a financial benefit to those companies. The Ethics Act would also restrict Treasurer Cowell’s disclosure of confidential information or use of nonpublic information obtained in her official position to benefit either company. Thus, she should take care not to use or disclose such information in connection with her board service.

“Furthermore, Treasurer Cowell should ensure that the companies in question do not use her official title in company advertising. An exception to that restriction allows the use of official titles in biographical listings, including those on a company’s website. However, in light of the potential impact, the Commission encourages Treasurer Cowell not to allow the use of her official title in biographical listings on ChannelAdvisor’s or James River’s website unless it also includes the biographical listings of similarly-situated board members. She should also ensure that State funds, personnel, or other resources are not used in connection with advertisements or public service announcements published in newspapers or those broadcast on radio, television, or billboards that include their name, picture, or voice.

“Finally, the gift ban would not restrict Treasurer Cowell’s receipt of those benefits customarily extended to other ChannelAdvisor or James River board members, including the reimbursement of travel expenses, receipt of food and beverages at board meetings and other activities associated with board membership, or compensation for board service.”

Read the full opinion at: